Carl Brashear

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Men of Honor (2000)
Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron
based on events in the life of Carl Maxie Brashear
Reel Face: Real Face:
Cuba Gooding Jr. Cuba Gooding

Born: January
2, 1968
The Bronx,
New York, USA
Carl Brashear Carl Maxie

Born: January 19,
Tonieville, Kentucky,
Died: July 25, 2006 (respiratory and heart ailments)

"Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump. I wouldn't go to sick bay. In that year, if I had gone to sick bay, they would have written me up. I didn't go to sick bay. I'd go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it--an old remedy. Then I'd get up the next morning and run." - Carl Brashear

Brashear running with an artificial
    (click image to enlarge)

Questioning the Story:

Was Robert De Niro's character, Billy Sunday, a real person?
No, he was not a real person. According to the film's press kit, the character of Billy Sunday, who was a Master Chief Navy Diver and instructor at the diving school in the movie, was "a composite of various Navy men."
In the film's press notes, screenwriter Scott Marshall Smith wrote, "This isn’t a connect-the-dots biography. I follow Carl’s life and career, but my goal was to be true to his spirit, not his shirt size. Everyone wanted the script to resonate as much as possible, so as a dramatist, I sometimes took it up a level.”

Was there really an enemy sub underwater with Carl Brashear when he worked to recover the nuclear bomb?
No, Carl Brashear was not dragged by an enemy sub, nor was there one underwater at all when he was working to recover the bomb. In an interview from, Carl said that the enemy sub was "completely stuck in there."

Did Carl Brashear really lose his leg in the same way that the film depicts?

Yes, this part of the film is very accurate. In the U.S. Naval Institute's oral history of Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear, he was quoted saying the following about the accident that occurred on March 23, 1966:
Just as I started to leave, the boat pulled on the pipe that had the mooring line tied to it. That pipe came loose, flew across the deck, and it struck my leg below the knee. They said I was way up in the air just turning flips. I landed about two foot inside of that freeboard. They said if I'd been two feet farther over, I'd have gone over the side. I jumped up and started to run and fell over. That's when I knew how bad my leg was. - Complete Oral History of Carl Brashear, U.S. Naval Institute

Just how bad was Carl Brashear's leg?
The corpsmen on the ship placed two tourniquets on Brashear's leg to try and stop the bleeding. They didn't work very well at first because Brashear was in such good physical condition and his leg was such a mass of muscle, a corpsman said later in an interview. The lower part of Brashear's leg was not torn off by the accident. He instead suffered several compound fractures of both bones in the lower leg.

In the following excerpt from
the U.S. Naval Institute's oral history of Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear, Carl said the following about the condition of his leg shortly after the accident:
Then they were going to piece my leg back on and do plastic surgery. Well, they were going to make my leg three inches shorter than the other leg. When they took the bandage off, my foot fell off. So they tried again, and it would fall off. It got gangrene and got infected. Well, I was slowly dying from that. So they transferred me up to Wiesbaden, Germany. There the doctor said that he could fix me, but it would take three years and could have me walking on a brace. So I raised all sorts of hell in that hospital.
So he said, "Well, do you want to be air-mailed out to the States?" That's the term he used. He said, "Do you want to be air-mailed out to the States?"
I said, "Yes, sir! Air-mail me out of here!"

- Complete Oral history of Carl Brashear, U.S. Naval Institute

Why did Brashear eventually choose amputation over trying to save his leg?
After several attempts by surgeons to save Brashear's leg, persistent infection and necrosis plagued the leg. He convinced them to amputate for this reason, and because he was told that it could take several years to fix the leg. In his oral history, he describes the amputation as follows:
"So they did a guillotine-type of operation, just chopped it off, cleared up the infection. A while later he said, "We didn't go high enough. We need to cut off another inch and a half." So they cut off an inch and a half to make sure they got it, and veed it out and sewed it up. This was in July 1966." - Carl Brashear

Brashear after the amputation wearing the Navy
    and Marine Corps Medal for heroism in saving
    lives. (click image to enlarge)

What type of tests did Carl Brashear have to pass in order to remain an active U.S. Navy diver?

Carl Brashear had to pass a variety of strenuous physical examinations. One exam involved climbing a ladder with a set of weights strapped to his back equivalent to the weight of two scuba tanks. Eventually, after prolonged tests and diving exercises, Carl was put back on active duty. He stayed on active duty for 12 more years, and in 1970 Carl became the first black US Navy master diver.

click image to enlarge

Did Carl Brashear really split up with his wife as the movie implies?
Yes. He and Junetta Wilcoxson divorced in 1978 after a 26-year marriage. In the years to follow, Carl Brashear remarried twice, but divorced each time. The last marriage ended in 1987.

Carl Brashear Interview Footage, Audio, and Photo Montage:
In this school project, several students offer an honest look at the real Carl Brashear's life, which is portrayed onscreen by Cuba Gooding Jr. Watch video, see photos and listen to him speak about his life as a Navy diver.

Video and Photos of the Real Carl Brashear

Carl Brashear Related Images:

Pictured left is Carl Brashear and Cuba Gooding Jr. on the set of 20th Century Fox's Men of Honor. Carl served as a technical advisor on the film.
Pictured left is a modern day U.S. Navy diver from Mobile Diving Salvage Unit Two. The divers prepared on the deck of the USS Grapple (ARS 53) to dive on the crash site of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, on Sept. 13, 1998. U.S. and Canadian forces worked together in the retrieval of victims and aircraft debris from the crash site.

Link-to-Learn More:
U.S. Naval Institute's Oral History of Carl Brashear (Interview)

Diving Heritage Site With Brashear Pics
Carl Brashear's Personal Data, Transcript of Service, Medals, Etc.
Listen to Navy/Marine Corps Radio Daily Newscast
U.S. Navy's Official Web Site
Living With Limb Differences (Part on Carl Brashear) [PDF file]
The Official Movie Site for Men of Honor
Men of Honor /*** Roger Ebert's Review

Watch the Men of Honor Movie Trailer:

Men of Honor movie trailer



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